Khouri, Norma 1970-
KHOURI, Norma 1970-
Born 1970, in Amman, Jordan.
Writer, poet, and women's rights advocate.
Forbidden Love: A Harrowing True Story of Love and Revenge in Jordan (memoir), Transworld (Milson Point, New South Wales, Australia), 2003, published as Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern-Day Jordan, Atria (New York, NY), 2003.
In Norma Khouri's memoir, Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern-Day Jordan, she reveals how her best friend was murdered by her own father because she loved a man who was not Muslim, like herself, but Christian. Their love was never consummated, but the father, under pressure from Muslim tradition, carried out his daughter's execution and never spent a day in prison. Such a crime is considered a misdemeanor, and the penalty is three months in jail. Since the father was able to raise bail, the time leading to the trial was counted as time served.
Jordanian law calls murder a legitimate act of defense when "the act of killing another or harming another was committed as an act in defense of his life, or his honor, or somebody else's life or honor." In 2000, Jordan and nineteen other countries abstained from signing a United Nations resolution condemning crimes of honor. The United Nations sets a conservative estimate of women murdered in honor killings at five thousand per year. In Jordan, which has one of the highest rates—one death a week—women are killed for being raped or merely talking to a man who is not a relative.
National Review contributor Emmy Chang noted that "in some sharia countries, politicians have at least paid lip service to the idea of legal reform. But in Jordan—where driving without a seat belt still carries a harsher penalty than killing a woman for honor—the authorities haven't even done that. In 2001, then-justice minister Abdul Karim Dughmi was asked about raped women who are later killed by their own families. His response: 'All woman killed in cases of honor are prostitutes. I believe prostitutes deserve to die.'"
Khouri, a Muslim, and Dalia became friends at the age of three. At twenty, they opened a unisex salon where they were closely watched by Dalia's brother. At twenty-five, the beautiful Dalia fell in love with Michael, an officer in the Royal Guard. They managed to spend time together, with the help of Khouri and Michael's sister, but their physical contact consisted of just two kisses. In 1996, before they could flee the country, they were discovered. Dalia's father stabbed his daughter twelve times and didn't call an ambulance until her heart had stopped beating. Then he said, "I've cleaned my house, that's what I have done. I've cut out the rotten part and brought honor back into my family name. From now on, no one is allowed to mention that name again. I never had a daughter! Understood?"
Khouri objected to her friend's murder and was accused by Dalia's father and family of being a conspirator, a crime also punishable by death. Sharon Verghis, who interviewed Khouri for the Sydney Morning Herald Online, wrote that "honor—its preservation and defense—is the linchpin of Khouri's world. While honor killings are an ancient part of Jordan's culture, she points out that they spring not from Islam, but from the country's even-older tribal Bedouin culture. She wrote her story in an Athens internet café after she finally managed to flee to Greece in 2000."
In her book, Khouri describes other instances of honor killings, such as that of a Jordanian girl who was stoned and whose throat was slashed by her brother because she had been raped by a neighbor. A sixteen-year-old girl was similarly killed by her brother after being raped by another brother. A young girl talking on the telephone was strangled by her brother with the cord because he suspected her of talking to men. A man killed his fifteen-year-old daughter by crushing her head with a rock because he suspected that she was having a sexual relationship with a neighbor. The autopsy concluded that she was a virgin. A Kirkus Reviews critic called the book "an eye-opening indictment of Islam as 'a totalitarian regime operating under the guise of a religion' and of the mistreatment of women in the modern Arab world."
Verghis noted that "the men who stab, dismember, and strangle their women relatives are not monsters, Khouri stresses.… A natural human emotion—affection for their daughters—simply cannot withstand the massive, ancient weight of tradition." Khouri told Verghis that "Dalia's father was not a cruel monster—in many ways he was a typical Arab man, just like my dad."
Khouri eventually went into exile in Australia to write a second book, the proceeds of which will support her activism, and she plans to pursue a degree in international law so that she will be able to fight for women's rights in Jordan and other countries. She collects e-mails and protest letters from around the world which she plans to send to the United Nations as well as to Jordan's emerging women's rights groups.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked that Khouri's message, "particularly resonant in today's world … conveys some knowledge of that world and its thinking in general, but in regard to the rights of women, it holds an especially significant appeal." Booklist's Kristine Huntley wrote that "Khouri's heartbreaking account is both a loving tribute to her best friend and an astounding exposure of these sadistic 'honor' killings."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Khouri, Norma, Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern-Day Jordan, Atria (New York, NY), 2003.
Booklist, February 15, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern-Day Jordan, p. 1035.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2002, review of Honor Lost, p. 1675.
Library Journal, January, 2003, Melody Ballard, review of Honor Lost, p. 139.
Publishers Weekly, January 27, 2003, review of Honor Lost, p. 251.
Absolute Write,http://www.absolutewrite.com/ (July 8, 2003), Uma Girish, interview with Khouri.
National Review Online,http://www.nationalreview.com/ (March 7, 2003), Emmy Chang, review of Honor Lost.
Road to Peace,http://www.roadtopeace.org/ (July 8, 2003), review of Honor Lost.
Sydney Morning Herald Online,http://www.smh.com.au/ (February 1, 2003), Sharon Verghis, interview with Khouri.*